Thoughts on A Public Reading .... Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney

disney10f-2-web Being the Disney fan (and theatre fan) that I am, I HAD to make a stop over to the Soho Rep's production of A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney by Lucas Hnath.  

I remember seeing the Auditions for this and I wanted to get my hands on the script, maybe even audition for it.  I did not audition because the only characters in the play are Walt, Roy (his brother), Ron Miller (Walt's ex-football pro Son-in-law), and Daughter (a meld of Diane and Sharon from what I could tell).

The play is beautifully produced, at the Soho Rep location, on a set that looks and feels like a wood paneled corporate business meeting room.  After, the actors enter the room, as if doing a real public reading, you soon realize that this screenplay is not only about Walt Disney's death, but Walt also wrote it, and is reading the stage directions.  An element of irony that I loved from the start.

There are lots of historic inaccuracies, one of which is included in the clip I linked below.  In this particular occurrence Walt mentions the Hall of Presidents.  Walt, having never stepped foot at any of the parks in Florida, would never have known what the Hall of Presidents was.  These sort of inaccuracies took me out of the piece, and reminded me this was the playwrights voice not Walt's.  It also made me fearful, people might actually think this is all true.

However, the linking of "Walt's voice" to the myths of Walt's life, I found fascinating.  We all know the myths of him being Anti-Semite, and cryogenic-ally frozen. Well, this play validates those types of myths by Walt being completely co-dependent on fame.  His hunger for perfection blinds him to the reality of his mortality, and it's everything that the personification of any corporate entity could become.  Yet, most of it is false to the life of actual man.

Larry Pine's performance is so perfect, you forget it's a reading, you see a man drowning in immortality.  You believe wholeheartedly the rest of the cast's yearning for Uncle Walt's approval, at times it's hilarious, but other times it's heartbreaking.  Sarah Benson's direction was so spot on she was even able to incorporate elements of magic and imagination into the piece.

After purchasing the script, I read inside the title page a quote, "'You can't just let nature run wild' -Walt Disney."  That one line explained the entire perspective of the playwright to me.   Taken out of context that quote sounds monstrous, but the context of that quote was regarding the creation of the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland.

Being a Disney-phile, I know the fascination with a man who becomes inspired enough to create an attraction that makes robotic animals.  However, I think the true story of a man can be much more fascinating, and maybe even more cynical than a mythical one.

Have you seen the play?  If not it's been extended through June 9.  Make sure to click on the Soho Rep page to get tickets.

If you've seen the play what did you think?

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675Larry Pine as Walt Disney from the New York Times Website